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Animal export protester guilty of walking in road

By Isle of Thanet Gazette  |  Posted: May 11, 2012

PROTEST:  Peter Nicholls claimed he was targeted  because of his  hair

PROTEST: Peter Nicholls claimed he was targeted because of his hair

ANIMAL rights activist Peter Nicholls has been found guilty of ignoring a police order forbidding him from intimidating lorry drivers transporting animals through the port of Ramsgate.

On September 30 last year, officers issued Nicholls, 24, of Adrian Square, Westgate, with a written order forbidding him from stepping into roads used by lorries transporting sheep or doing anything that might intimidate drivers.

He appeared at Folkestone Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, when he denied failing to comply with the order.

He was found guilty after a two-day trial and, on Wednesday, was given a conditional discharge for six months.

Nicholls, a youth worker based in Canterbury, also faces a £750 costs bill.

He was charged under Section 14 of the 1986 Public Order Act, which says a senior police officer can give a written warning during a demonstration.

If the order is breached the recipient can be arrested.

The bench was shown police footage taken outside the port and later a mile away at a roundabout junction in Canterbury Road East – a mile away from the port.

Nicholls was arrested after he walked into the road as a truck loaded with sheep heading for the port passed by.

He shouted "shame" and pointed at the driver as the lorry passed within six feet of him. Two officers promptly arrested him.

Oliver Kirk, defending, said that Nicholls believed the order only applied to the dock entrance, not to a stretch of road a mile away.

During the film Inspector Mick Gardner, the officer in charge of the police operation that night, could be seen reading the order to Nicholls, who asked why was it being served on him.

Another officer tried to put the written order into Nicholls' backpack and he tried to give it back.

After that incident he went to the roundabout where he met up with six other protesters who were trying to get support from motorists by waving banners. Shortly after he arrived police turned up and told the demonstrators to get away from the central island for safety reasons and issued another section 14 order.

At this point Nicholls said he had had enough and was leaving the protest. As he was heading towards the Lord of the Manor roundabout a lorry loaded with sheep was approaching.

Nicholls left the pavement and headed for a hatched area next to set of traffic bollards from where he shouted at the driver, who ignored him.

Two officers followed him up the road and promptly handcuffed him. At the time he asked why he had been arrested because he did not believe he was in breach of the original order.

Questioning Mr Gardner, Mr Kirk said: "You didn't believe for a moment there was a threat of a major public order incident, did you?"

The inspector said he was worried that drivers would be intimidated and that there could be damage to property and traffic would be blocked. He also said he was worried that a protester could get run over.

Mr Kirk said that under the way Mr Gardner framed the order, Nicholls could have been banned from any road in the country used by animal transporters.

Sergeant Jason Hedges was at the Canterbury Road East roundabout and saw Nicholls run towards the truck.

He said: "I truly thought he was going to be hit. His intention was to make the driver brake or halt."

Giving evidence, Nicholls said: "A group of policemen asked me to move. I asked for the reason. The area we were being moved to was under a cliff where there had been rock falls. I didn't want to stand under falling rocks."

During previous demonstrations protesters had occupied a different area outside the port and Nicholls said he felt a tacit agreement had been broken.

He added: "I tried to speak to the inspector but he just didn't want to listen. There was no danger to public order, no likelihood of damage to property and no disruption to the community."

Nicholls said he thought he had been targeted because of his distinctive afro hairstyle.

Describing his arrest, Nicholls told the court: "The officer was very aggressive. He said: 'You're ******* nicked.'

"I had been recording with my phone and he grabbed it and asked me to delete what was on it. I said no, he didn't have my permission and I wasn't going to give it."

Mr Kirk said: "This is a tricky case. It is the right of every citizen to protest. This wasn't serious damage to public order.

"All my client was doing was wagging his finger at the driver."

He said the police's application of the Section 14 orders had been "haphazard" and did not pinpoint the areas his client was banned from.

He added: "The police were using the equivalent of a nuclear bomb to crack a walnut. It was entirely unnecessary to arrest this young man."

Following the verdict, Mr Nicholls said he was considering an appeal to the Crown Court.

On Sunday, May 20 a rally will be held marking one year since the start of animal exports through Ramsgate. It will meet at the East Cliff bandstand from noon.